On the Same Page offers free speech book for freshmen

Every year, deans from the college of letters and sciences choose a book for all incoming students to read in order to prepare them for campus life. This year, in an effort to resuscitate the spirit of the Free Speech Movement, a volunteer faculty committee selected: “Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s,” a biography of one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement written by Robert Cohen, a visiting history professor from New York University.

The book goes hand in hand with UC Berkeley’s On the Same Page program, an initiative that suggests reading materials to incoming freshmen and transfer students in order for everyone to have something in common to discuss upon arrival in August. According to the program’s director, Alix Schwartz, over the past nine years, the program has tried to pull books from the different letters and science disciplines. The program’s goal is to compel students to discuss intellectual topics and to encourage students to critically engage with the campus’s history and legacy. As a historical turning point in student activism across the country, the Free Speech Movement provides the perfect talking point for this year’s new students.

As Schwartz said, “This is so pressing for students in the scene. They need to know they can still be inspired by Free Speech Movement, by Mario Savio and the victory that it won for everyone.”

After distributing the chosen book to UC Berkeley faculty and CalSO attendees, On the Same Page then aims to foster discourse among participants by offering not only public activities and events to go along with the subject of the novel at the beginning of the semester but also classes on it for the semester. Neither reading the book nor attending any event or class is required, but both are suggested for eager students.

The book is “a great biography,” according to Schwartz. Cohen has even more personal ties to UC Berkeley than the book as well, because he is a visiting lecturer this semester from UC Irvine. Not only does he teach History 100D, which is about the politics and culture of the ’60s and all of its implications, he also edited The Daily Californian’s edition of the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.

Professors who read the book and were interested in its content and message then approached Schwartz about incorporating their own classes into the On the Same Page program. The program now features not only freshman seminars but also upper-division classes from the English to legal studies to computer sciences departments, a result of professors’ initiatives.

Professors offering their classes seem to be taking their curriculums seriously. English 165, a class within the On the Same Page program, is taught by professor Colleen Lye, who was in fact a UC Berkeley undergraduate in the 1980s during the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, when UC Berkeley students organized sit-ins in solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Her personal history and research inform her that the “history of the Free Speech Movement is connected to broader political issues through students’ aspirations to get involved with activism.”

If we wonder, especially now on this significant anniversary, if the Free Speech Movement is still relevant to our lives — especially here at UC Berkeley — we can just walk onto campus and see the Mario Savio Steps, where there will likely be a protest within the next week on a serious issue within society. As Schwartz said, “Mario is a great role model.”

While celebrating the history of the Free Speech Movement, professors push students to remember the progressive legacy of the movement and imbue the awareness and spirit of activism, even if the administrators still do not listen to all students’ appeals. Still, even the existence of the program and its specific choice in this book should be acknowledged as a massive shift in the university’s historical outlook on the Free Speech Movement.